Musharraf is ready for trial, but is the government?



The battle of attrition in the yet to begin treason case against former strongman Parvez Musharraf is on low flame — not surprising given the unprecedented nature of the gambit.

To be sure, no army chief has ever been tried for demonstrating a dim view of the constitution — even though they have repeatedly galloped into the power corridors and trampled the rule book, figuratively speaking.

Audaciously, each time, these interventions found favour with the superior courts thanks to the done-to-death invocation of the "law of necessity" — the judgments leaving little to imagination about where the honourable judges felt the power gravitas lay. 

Therefore, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government appeared to take the country by surprise when Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan announced last month that the retired general would be taken to the cleaners for violating the constitution.

However, after the initial brouhaha, it has retreated to an apparent go-slow, leading to speculation if this all is not some sort of pressure tactic to force the general to compromise and quit Pakistan, which he has refused to do until he gets a clean legal slate.

Intriguingly, while the government has slowed the pace of legal formalities, Musharraf has surprised his detractors with his derring-do in wanting to fight the case. He has formed a formidable team, including a clutch of legal eagles, namely Dr Khalid Ranjha, S M Zafar and Wasim Sajjad to meet the challenge.
Leading the grey wolves is the octogenarian Sharifuddin Pirzada, the favourite first recourse of military strongmen.

Pirzada has a telling record of saving the day for fatigued adventurers (even though it can be argued that superior courts before the one headed by Iftikhar Chaudhary, the incumbent chief justice, lacked the spine to dig deep).

However, the catch is that Chaudhary is retiring next week and his successor, even though an accomplished judge, isn't too enamoured of the "activist" approach of the adjudicator he is set to replace.

The situation gets interesting considering that both the outgoing chief justice and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have a personal grudge against Musharraf, who deposed them both, at different times to consolidate his grip on power.

While Sharif was exiled to Saudi Arabia under a purported 10-year deal to stay away from politics after his conviction in the so-called plane hijacking case, Chaudhary was dismissed twice within nine months over fears he would stall the general's bid to become a second-time president in uniform in 2007.

In what was to become a defining chapter in Pakistan's history, the suspension of Chaudhary was overturned the first time when Musharraf sent a reference against him to the Supreme Judicial Council — never before had a judicial entity dared to go against the run of play crafted by a serving general.
However, after Chaudhary was reinstated following a popular movement and nearing a verdict with his brother judges over a clutch of petitions challenging General Musharraf's bid to contest presidential elections in uniform, he was sacked in a sweeping emergency declaration.

In a landmark decision four years ago, the Supreme Court headed by Chaudhary, who was again reinstated by the succeeding Pakistan People's Party-led government — again, following a popular movement when it tried to circumvent the reinstatement — had declared the act ultra vires of the constitution.

The PML-N government, which returned to power this year, has itself been waiting out key stakeholders, and has, for months, been trying to prevail upon Musharraf to retire abroad. Even though Sharif has his own scores to settle with his former handpicked army chief, he has been understandably wary of the consequences.

Such a move, he fears, is fraught with risk to his still nascent government given the troubled personal history of discord with almost all military chiefs during his previous two aborted terms as prime minister.

So why now? Most likely it is a forced measure, and perhaps, even at this late stage, still only a psychological ruse to get Musharraf to quit. Murmurs of resentment within the military hierarchy over the trial of their former boss have been making round for a while now.

The general impression is that while some of them — like the recently retired General Ashfaq Kayani — were livid at Musharraf's refusal to heed their counsel to stay away from Pakistan, and not drag the institution by default because of that adventure, they may not countenance an example being made.

Sharif is probably taking a bet now because the change in military command has only just taken place and he may be quietly confident that the new chief — reportedly, a distant relative of his wife — will not bite back.

But if it all does go down to the wire in the court room, Musharraf feels reasonably assured that it cannot go the distance without the highest military and civilian leadership getting implicated — thanks to their proximity and possible collusion with him.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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